32 mornings at 3 a.m.: Meet the man who kept Howelsen groomed
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For 32 straight days, Ben Glassmeyer woke up at 2:30 a.m.
He turned on the coffee pot, which he filled the night before. Trying not to wake his wife, he used the light of his phone to put on the clothes that he laid out before going to bed. By the time he brushed his teeth, the coffee was done. He poured it into a travel mug and headed out the door.
The sun had not yet risen and wouldn’t for another four hours. It was a cold morning in late March, but instead of grabbing his keys, he gripped his handlebars and biked to work.
At Howelsen Hill Ski Area, he hopped in the warm cab of the Snowcat and turned the radio to 95.5.
“There’s nothing better than Van Halen just screaming in your ear that early,” Glassmeyer said. “It’s a great morning starter.”
Glassmeyer, a 29-year-old Steamboat Springs resident, is the person who provided locals with the only groomed ski trails around while the chaos and closures surrounding COVID-19 ensued. After more than a month of the same routine, on April 9, the city announced there was no longer enough snow on the trails to continue grooming Howelsen Hill.
Typically, two employees split the grooming task, so Glassmeyer only worked four days a week throughout the winter. However, once the state and county started implementing stricter health protocols, only one man could operate the machine. That task fell to Glassmeyer.
So, for 32 days, he got up so early that one might hesitate to even call it morning. Starting work around 3 a.m., he usually spent more than three hours on the trails, ensuring Steamboat skiers had something to do despite a statewide stay-at-home order.
He groomed different trails every other day and soon had the whole system memorized. Toward the end, as Hobo Park and the rodeo grounds lost snow, he repeated the same route every single morning.
When Glassmeyer first started working for Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation and Howelsen Hill three years ago, it was hard maneuvering around the area. While still learning how to operate the cat, he had to find the trails, sometimes in white-out conditions.
Now, he could probably groom the whole hillside with his eyes closed. He spent a few minutes dictating his opening loops just to prove it. Surprisingly, Glassmeyer didn’t get sick of the job, even after weeks on repeat.
“I, honestly, really started enjoying it just because we were seeing how popular (the trails were) and how grateful everybody was that we were grooming,” he said. “It kind of just gave me that extra boost to get up early and keep doing it. You knew it was going to be well-loved.”
The only downfall of the job is battling rough conditions. If there is no new snow, he had to harvest some from other areas. If it was cold and icy, the trails didn’t look as clean and perfect after he came through.
“It’s all about the presentation. You want to make those perfect corduroy lines,” he said. “It’s not always going to go your way, but when things look a little ugly, you just wish every single time was a perfect groom.”
Glassmeyer has seen foxes trotting along the trails, as well as mountain lion prints, but has never caught a glimpse of a big cat. By the time he wraps up his loops, the sun is rising and coating the corduroy with a pink glow, a benefit of an early shift.
On April 10, Glassmeyer missed the sunrise but didn’t mind one bit.
“Once it was all over and we finally called it after the 32 days, it was very nice being able to sleep in the next day. That was very enjoyable,” Glassmeyer said. “Overall, there were no regrets. People were sending us positive feedback. Those comments go a long way, knowing that people do appreciate what you’re doing.”
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